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Virginia Reduces Standardized Testing
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Virginia Reduces Standardized Testing

ACPS: Good change overall, but also expect to see failing scores stand out.

Starting with this year’s class-of-2022 freshmen, high school students will take fewer state controlled standardized tests, and more locally controlled “performance-based” tests instead.

The change comports with Alexandria City Public Schools’ inclination.

“We have to have less emphasis on standardized tests. … It is something that we are very adamant about,” said Superintendent Dr. Gregory Hutchings in February.

“The [Virginia] Board of Education sees value in limiting the number of high-stakes assessments required to earn a diploma and in allowing students to demonstrate content knowledge through performance-based assessments,” said Board of Education President Daniel Gecker.

As the name suggests, a performance-based test assesses a student’s knowledge as demonstrated in a performed task, rather than in answering multiple-choice questions. For example, a performance-based test in an earth science class might require a student to demonstrate taking measurements from a local stream, said Virginia Department of Education spokesperson Charles Pyle.

Traditional state-mandated “Standards of Learning” — SOL, for short — testing isn’t going away, but it’s “dialing back,” Pyle added. Elementary and middle school students will take the same number of SOL tests. But high school students will take fewer. High school students will now take a minimum of five SOL tests throughout their high school careers — one each in the core subject areas of reading, writing, math, science and history/social science. That’s down from the old requirement of nine — two in each core subject, plus a student selected test — to qualify for Virginia’s Advanced Studies Diploma, and from six for the less rigorous Standard Diploma.

In practice, the reduction could be more substantial.

SOL assessments associated with any number of courses in a given subject might satisfy the standardized exam requirement for that subject. For example, passing the SOL test in any of three courses — earth science, biology or chemistry — would satisfy the state’s science requirement for a Standard Diploma. But under the system that’s phasing out, taking any of those courses triggers the requirement to take the corresponding end-of-course standardized SOL exam. A student who really likes science and takes all three courses would have to take all three associated SOL exams, even though doing so exceeds the graduation requirement.

Whereas under the system that’s phasing in, students only need to take and pass one standardized test per core subject area. Taking additional classes, even if they have associated end-of-course SOL tests, won’t trigger the need to take additional standardized assessments. The science lover would only have to take and pass one science SOL, not three. The history and social science lover would only have to take and pass one qualifying course’s SOL, not four. And so on.

These changes only apply to students in the class of 2022. Students in the classes of 2019-2021 will remain subject to the old system’s more multiplicative testing requirements.

Hutchings’ administration cautions that, when the state releases the next batch of test results, T.C. Williams High School might see lowered test scores. Part of the reason is that serial test-passers would no longer remain in the statistical pool to mask serial test-failers. The administration also cautions that, because of the policy changes, testing results for the 2018-2019 school year cannot be compared apples-to-apples to results from 2017-2018.

To illuminate and track “achievement gaps” — sometimes also called “opportunity gaps” — between demographic student subgroups, the school division relies on SOL performance results, SAT scores and on-time graduation rates. Previous years’ SOL results showed that T.C. Williams’ male, black, Hispanic, disabled, “economically disadvantaged” and English-learning subgroups, when disaggregated, each persistently underperformed the student body.

Asked if the new reduced testing requirements might affect tracking achievement/opportunity gaps, the administration said other measures — including PSAT, SAT and Advanced Placement test scores — also serve to track student progress.

For more information, visit www.doe.virginia.gov/instruction/graduation.